Characters can have leeway. For me, when a character pulls his own way, that’s a sign that I’m going to end up with so much more than I planned to – It first happened for me way back at the beginning when I was still learning how to string a few words together and make them mean something – I let a minor character (a humble shopkeeper) ramble on and he changed the entire plot, the whole book, brought in a war, threw in some seers, created the Chiddran civilization and enabled my lead villain to become something a mite more noble by giving him a princely crown, and thus created the Khekarian series.
That’s quite a feat for one lowly and undisciplined character meant to appear only once and solely because I needed someone to stand behind a counter.
Needless to say, such unexpected creation proved to be a big gain for me, but how did it come about? I let it occur because I had no real plot at the time, so I was easy with it, even when I didn’t know where it was going. I remember thinking that I could always rip it all out if it didn’t lead anywhere useful or if it tangled up in knots.
It’s very easy to be so tied into what you have already decided on that you don’t allow for any leeway at all, but that might cost you. It’s worth exploring if something tugs you in a new direction. You can always rip it out later if you’re not happy with the results.
Mind, I’m not suggesting you let your characters completely take over. When I talk about characters going their own way, I don’t mean they run off with the plot already in existence. While Morragt (the shopkeeper mentioned above) became a Chiddran Seer and expanded the one book into a series, giving me the Khekarian/Chiddran war and two Empires to play with, and even elevated Aleisha (main character) to an untrained psychic, he did not change her struggles or reason for being out at the Terran Fringe of colonized space.
Of course, if you are plot-building, this is the time to let them go crazy – they have so much to offer. But if you have exactly what you want, plot-wise, a character expanding on his or her own depth or expression can add richness and extra flavor to your work.
I feel very fortunate in that the first time it happened for me was so early in my writing experience and that I was open enough to allow it to occur. Because that happened when it did, and because it changed so much and brought in so much more than I had, I loved the event. I wanted it to happen again (and again and again). I thought every writer felt that way, but I have since learned that more than a few don’t like it at all when that happens.
We all write in our own way, and there is no right and wrong. I’m not interested in changing anyone’s methods or ideas. I’m just sharing what works for me and telling you why I find seemingly uncontrollable characters so exciting.
I cannot force it to happen, but I do allow it to. Fortunately for me, it has and does and I take full advantage of that every single time.
Letting characters have leeway is only part of it. Plots move around, too. Writing changes. Any major piece of work is likely to take years of a writer’s time, throughout which they are expanding their experiences.
Something I have noticed is that on each fresh read-through of a work in progress, I see it differently. I see it with all those new bits, flavors, leanings, hints and energies sitting there together in a fresh arrangement, showing me what I have from a new angle. From that new angle comes glimpses of potential which, of course, triggers inspiration. And so it forms, and if I’m lucky, characters will take off and strut their stuff.
No one ever told me about such a wondrous thing. I had to find it out for myself, and it was like finding treasure. Recognizing that process, though, enables me to give a project time to develop, knowing that it will expand and be something much grander than I ever see at the beginning. Before I begin a new project, I will know what I think of as the main plot, but sub plots have a way of pushing forward and not for the first time have become main plots, after all.
So, when I write a book, I end up with a book that I never expected.
That’s the point I’m trying to make. The adventure you write isn’t just for your readers. The adventure you write is there for you, too. Perhaps it’s about trusting intuition, but given that writers are people who sit inside the heads of all their characters to fully explore and understand them, experimenting with trusting their own inner drives shouldn’t be too difficult. You think?
Cheers, everyone, and Happy Writing!